The 20th annual Ride for the Pass event starts at 10 a.m. today, featuring a 10-mile race up Independence Pass that climbs 2,000 feet from the start at the Aspen winter gate to the finish at the ghost town of Independence.
The course allows cyclists to enjoy the narrow route up the pass without worrying about vehicular traffic, as the pass gates remain closed until Thursday.
Despite the overwhelming beauty along the course and unobstructed views of some of Colorado’s most pristine mountain areas, Mark Fuller, the executive director of the Independence Pass Foundation and race organizer, won’t list those amenities as his favorite elements of the event.
“The parts of the race I enjoy the most are the start and the party afterwards,” Fuller said. “The start of the race is sensational with all the cyclists taking off together. It’s colorful, exciting and exhilarating. The post-race party, besides being a lot of fun, means the race went off successfully.”
Fuller expects around 400 participants today, which is close to the same number of riders the event has seen in the past few years.
The Ride for the Pass starts at 10 a.m. for competitive riders and 10:10 a.m. for recreational riders. The start line is the Aspen winter gate, about seven miles east of Aspen on Highway 82. With limited parking along the highway, carpooling is recommended. There’s parking available at Difficult Campground, about two miles below the race starting area, with a free shuttle to the starting area running from 8:15 to 9:15 a.m.
Race registration is open until 9:30 a.m. today, with a $50 race fee for individuals and $80 for families.
The post-race party takes place from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. at the St. Regis Hotel in Aspen.
Independence Pass is an important transit corridor during the six months it’s open, offering a second option to access Aspen besides using Highway 82 through the Roaring Fork Valley.
It’s also one of the most popular recreational corridors in the White River National Forest, receiving the second-most visits in the national forest behind only the Hanging Lake area along Interstate 70.
This year marks the 20th anniversary of the race and the 25th anniversary of the Independence Pass Foundation, the organization that hosts the Ride for the Pass.
Bob Lewis, a veteran of the 10th Mountain Division and former biology and science teacher in Aspen who died in 2005, formed the Independence Pass Foundation in 1989. Fuller took over as executive director of the foundation in 1996.
According to Fuller, the U.S. Forest Service and Colorado Department of Transportation don’t have enough resources to maintain all the different aspects of upkeep along Independence Pass, so the foundation helps with whatever projects and tasks it can.
“We look at the wide range of interests and projects and try to find the best ways we can contribute,” Fuller said. “We’ve adopted the pass as an area we want to see kept as usable and sustainable.”
Fuller said some past projects include helping with road stabilization, revegetation, recreational improvements and educational programs. The foundation annually raises around $150,000 to $200,000, depending on the number of grants it receives.
“It’s a relatively small amount of money in comparison to other local foundations,” Fuller said. “We have to rely on our volunteers and donations to keep our costs down.”